IN THE FALL OF 1988 I WAS CORNERED BY THREE REBEL STUDENTS AT SCI-ARC THAT WANTED TO DO HOMELESS HOUSING IN PUBLIC AREAS. THE IDEA OF INSTANT HOUSING TO BRING ATTENTION OF THE PLIGHT OF THE HOMELESS. I WAS ALL UP FOR IT, AND WE PUT A STUDIO TOGETHER TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. ONE STUDENT INSTANTLY BUILT A RATHER CRUDE STRUCTURE AND PUT IT NEAR SOME TYPE OF INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. BY THE TIME OUR CLASS CAME OUT TO SEE IT, IT HAD ALREADY BEEN DEMOLISHED BY OWNERS OF THE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS NOT ON THEIR PROPERTY. ANOTHER STUDENT WANTED TO LIVE AS A HOMELESS ON LA CIENEGA RESTAURANT ROW IN BEVERLY HILLS. SHE WENT THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT TO DO SO. I DISCOURAGED HER TO CONTINUE. THESE BOTH WERE FORMS OF SQUATTING.
I BECAME HEAVY HANDED AND GAVE THE CLASS THE ASSIGNMENT OF WORKING WITH AN 8′ CUBE. TO MAKE HOUSING SCHEMES . THE MORE REBELLIOUS STUDENTS FOUND THIS RESTRICTING AND DID THEIR OWN THING, BUT THE MAJORITY OF THE CLASS GOT WITH THE IDEA. I WAS INFLUENCED BY MY FRIEND DONALD MCDONALD ARCHITECT IN SAN FRANCISCO THAT BUILT A MODULAR BOX 4’X 4′ X 8′ FOR $500 AND GAVE THEM TO A COUPLE OF HOMELESS TO LIVE IN.
AT THIS TIME THERE WAS A LIBERAL CITY GOVERNMENT IN SANTA MONICA INCLUDING COUNCIL, MAYOR AND CITY ATTORNEY. THEY FED THE HOMELESS EVERY NIGHT ON THE LAWN IN FRONT OF THE CITY HALL. THE HOMELESS WERE SLEEPING IN THE PARKS AND DOORWAYS IN CONSIDERABLE NUMBERS.
WE FOUND POTENTIAL CITY OWNED SITES TO ERECT TEMPORARY VILLAGES. EACH STUDENT DESIGNED THEIR OWN APPROACH. I ASKED FOR A SYSTEM THAT ALLOWED FOR GROUP CONCENTRATION.
WE INTERVIEWED THE HOMELESS, CARE FACILITIES, AND DID THE RESEARCH.
WE EVENTUALLY HAD TO SELECT ONE SCHEME AND BUILD IT AS A PROTOTYPE, BUT ALL THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENT APPROACHES MADE SENSE.
TWO SCHEMES USED THE BOXES AS ADVERTISING TO GENERATE MONEY. OTHERS CREATED COVERED COMMON SPACE.
BESIDES THE BOX FOR SLEEPING, THERE WERE BOXES FOR FOR A BATHROOM AND KITCHEN TO BE SHARED.
THE CRIT ON THE PITCH TO USE THE MODULARS AS A FORM OF SIGNBOARD FOR ADVERTISING TO GENERATE MONEY WAS SLAMMED FOR NO DIGNITY. WHAT A SHAM OF HYPOCRISY.
MAKING COMMON SPACE
MAKING IT A SWEET COMPLEX, EVEN ORANGE COUNTY WOULD APPROVE.
THE MATERIAL COST WAS $500 WITH ALL THE MATERIALS FOR ONE BOX , BOUGHT AT HOME DEPOT. THE DESIGN WAS SIMPLE AND COULD BE BUILT BY A SERVICE CLUB IN A DAY. ASSEMBLY LINE CONSTRUCTION WOULD BOOST THE OUTPUT. THE SCHEME WAS 4X4 CORNER POSTS THAT ALLOWED FOR STACKING. 4X8 STANDARD SHEATHING AND DRY WALL. FLOOR, ROOF, AND WALLS SANDWICHED CONSTRUCTION WITH INSULATION. ONE LIGHT BULB HEATED SPACE. WHERE THE ELECTRICAL CAME FROM WAS UP FOR GRABS, BUT THE LATE SAUL GOLDIN WAS THE ELECTRICAL ENGINEER.
INTERIOR WAS SINGLE BED MATTRESS, WARDROBE, STORAGE, DESK, CHAIR. THE FINAL DETAILING WAS MINIMUM, AND COULD HAVE BEEN SOUPED UP, BUT DID THE JOBS.
I COULD LIVE IN ONE. THE INTERIOR POSSIBILITIES ENDLESS.
THE FIRE MARSHALL APPROVED THE STRUCTURE.
THE STUDENTS VOTED AND BUILT AS A CLASS A PROTOTYPE AND SURPRISED ME WITH THEIR GRAPHICS. I ENDED UP HAVING TO BUILD THE STAIRS MYSELF SINCE THERE WAS A CONFLICT OF FINAL WEEK WITH OTHER CLASSES. THE LIFESAVER WAS WELL RECEIVED BY THE HOMELESS, AND IT WAS BROKEN INTO AND USED. OF COURSE OTHERS PREFERRED THE FREEDOM OF PARKS. A MULTIFACETED ISSUE TO ADDRESS.
THE CLASS PRESENTED TO THE CITY COUNCIL. THE CITY ATTORNEY GOT SOLIDLY BEHIND THE PROJECT AND WE SNEAKED IT ONTO THE FRONT LAWN WITH CITY ASSISTANCE. THE CITY COUNCIL TURNED IT DOWN AS A HOUSING OPTION.
ARGUMENTS USED, IT DID NOT DIGNIFY THE HOMELESS, WOULD CREATE SHANTY TOWN PROBLEMS, ETC.
AND YET IN REALITY THE HOMELESS SLEPT EXPOSED TO WEATHER AND PHYSICAL HARM IN PUBLIC SPACES OF DOORWAYS IN BUILDINGS AND IN THE PARKS. HOW DIGNIFIED IS THAT? A SAD STATEMENT OF CONCERN BY HIS FELLOW MAN.
MY READ WAS THAT THIS CHEAP HOUSING WOULD UPSET THE BUBBLE OF THE HOUSING INDUSTRY. FOUR $1000 ( $500 MATERIALS PLUS FOR $500 ASSEMBLY) FOR A LIVING UNIT PLUS A $ 3,000 BATHROOM AND KITCHEN BOX SHARED BY FOUR. FOUR LIVING UNITS COMPLETE FOR $7000 OR 100 LIVING UNITS FOR $175,000. THAT IS INDIVIDUAL AFFORDABLE TEMPORARY HOUSING WITH A COOL ARCHED CEILING.
THE INHABITANTS COULD BE ORGANIZED TO DO UPKEEP ,AND CHECKED AND HELPED BY COMMUNITY SERVICES ALREADY IN PLACE. EACH PERSON WOULD HAVE THEIR SECURED PROTECTED PLACE, A TRANSITION SPACE FOR GETTING ON THEIR FEET .
THE ALTERNATIVE BY GOVERNMENT IS TO SPEND TONS OF MONEY FOR LOW INCOME HOUSING THAT STILL DOES NOT CATER TO THESE SOULS IN THE PARKS AND BY WAYS.
THIS PROJECT IS AS RELEVANT TODAY AS IN 1988, AND CAN BE UPGRADED WITH ALL THE GREEN STUFF.
A HAPPY HOMELESS, IT WORKED FOR HIM
I APOLOGIZE TO THE STUDENTS FOR NOT CALLING OUT INDIVIDUAL CREDITS FOR THEIR PROJECTS, MAYBE SOMEBODY COULD FILL ME IN?
GETTING PRACTICAL, BUT STILL A GOOD LOOK
NOW WE ARE TALKING ARTY STAGE SET FOR LIVING
INTERIOR, NOT DOING IT JUSTICE, MARTHA STEWART WOULD MAKE THIS HOMEY IN FIVE MINUTES.
IN THE LOCAL INDEPENDENT PAPER, MUCH BIGGER THAN SANTA MONICA COULD DEAL WITH.
ON THE WAY OUT, BEFITTING THAT SANTA MONICA PLACE ON LEFT WITH STEEL NETTING SIGNAGE BY FRANK GEHRY, GOT THE AXE RECENTLY TOO.
KATE KEATING OF PORTLAND, FORMERLY A SANTA MONICA RUSTIC CANYON LOG CABIN RESIDENT , MAKES A CASE FOR ACTION WITH HER PROSE:
MY BROTHER AND HIS KEEPER(S)
Who are we,
our brother’s keepers?
Who are the brothers we are supposed to keep?
At exactly the minute the equatorial sun slides behind trees
the meeting adjourns to the 4th roof garden and its welcomed shade
for a light supper of wine or water and abundant tastetreats
served by graceful waitguys and gals.
A small company of men and women who enjoy each others company
stay even as others leave, the evening grows dark and the bar is closed and taken away.
Finally, in the elevator,
the last five or six of us travel with the empty catering bins
down from the roof and into the still-smoldering night.
One friend laughs with me as I opt to walk in one direction which is not in her direction.
“What!” she asks. “Are you afraid of my neighborhood?”
She lives only one block away; I live ten north and four west.
So I choose to walk west on NW Davis rather than north along NW 8th
which adjoins the city-long Park that makes grassy sleeping places for the homeless.
I choose instead to walk west on NW Davis to escape the Park’s tenants
only to know too soon that same-kind tenants sleep in every doorway
on NW Davis
between NW 8th, NW Park Avenue, NW 9th and NW 10th Avenues
which is only a distance of four blocks but as different as …
as different as night and day!
In summer’s long evenings
no one sleeps in daylight in these same doorways when I pass without regard
but now, as sun is less and less each day and dark comes earlier,
the transient has to secure his doorway before someone else lays claim.
They do me no harm
They tuck into cocoons of wretchedness,
their survival for another day achieved …
bothering no one physically
bothering me emotionally.
What brings them to this place in life?
Where do they go to the bathroom?
Where do they wash their feet?
How tormented must they be?
Especially … where do they go to the bathroom?
Sometimes those sleeping are only feet away from those celebrating
at outdoor cafÃ©s.
The night hangs onto stifling;
sidewalks melt shoe bottoms.
Kate is sad and hot and angry and …
and does not want to walk all the way home in the hot dark alone again
although once back on NW 10th and in a different world
life looks better:
people stroll with babies, lapping ice creams, holding hands.
The streetcar stop is here or I am there.
It’s all the same.
The reader board shouts,
The next street car that normally comes every ten minutes is away by 30 minutes
There is no option.
I lose myself in moving automatically, empty of thought, block by blazing block,
past landmarks that post-it my pathway
And then I am accosted.
For the first time in Portlandtown
a man rants and raves and asks me questions.
Finally, lost in absence, I am one block from my house.
No one else is on the street
when a man deranged and scabby rants and raves and asks me questions.
(Because I choose to live in the “country”
at the farthest end of Northwest Portland,
until more people move here the streets are deserted at night
when sunlight leaves.)
he yells at me.
At first I am afraid but only for a blink.
“It’s up there,” I say to him, pointing west.
I show him the street car tracks that lead directly to Good Samaritan Hospital.
I tell him where the closest stop is.
I forget to tell him there are no streetcars tonight
but I don’t think he understands a word I say
“They call me Russian!” he says with a Spanish accent,
while his arms flail with a life of their own.
“They call me Cuban!” he says with a Spanish accent
and eyes that know such sorrow.
“Good Sam,” he pleads.
And I turn and walk away.
I turn my back and walk into the beauty of my tidy life,
looking back only once.
I go to a beautiful evening of bathed souls with
polished toes, massaged feet and good shoes.
Those who own the souls that sleep in doorways wear
rancid feet, filthy socks, and taped-together shoes.
The man who needs medical attention either gets it or he doesn’t.
Who are our brothers anyway?
BLOG READERS AND FRIENDS,
COME ON ALL YOU PEOPLE, SMILE ON YOUR BROTHER AND MAKE SOME COMMENTS. THIS IS AN ARCHITECTURAL AND SOCIAL PROBLEM. I KNOW THESE ARE NOT RICH CLIENTS, BUT CLIENTS JUST THE SAME.
LAWYERS, DOCTORS, ETC DO FREE CONSULTATION FOR THE POOR. WHY NOT ARCHITECTS AND CONTRACTORS COMING TOGETHER TO DONATE AT THIS LEVEL AS WELL. WHAT DOES GET BUILD IS SO CLINICAL AND STERILE, NO ART. BEING ARCHITECTS WE ARE PRACTICAL ARTISTS. LETS GIVE SOME CLASS TO MINIMUM LIVING.
Remember GLEN , this was July 4th week. So I will be first.
SCI-Arc THEN SCI-Arc NOW
Looking backwards, the attraction of SCI-Arc was the chance to build and get your hands dirty, do something real, and most important, try and put your ideas (and ideals) out there. SCI-Arc was a laboratory for anyone that wanted to experiment. The Rhombics, the great big tensile tent that was carried all over So Cal. The student made dome. The wind – powered generator…
No one was more ‘putting it out there’ than you. Starting with Cal Poly and the sand dunes encampment of cardboard structures, the Urban Bike Odyssey, La Arana in Baja, You and Ahdi Lahti were a great team.
The vibe at SCI-Arc was that of engagement; with community, SCI-Arc and ultimately ourselves. Beneath the projects, the individual experiments, the collaborations, the student and faculty togetherness as community was an overall sense of Ethics. An obligation to design for community. It is the highest form of ethics. It is what made SCI-Arc different, important and attractive.
Has much of that changed? Yes. SCI-Arc as it has grown, became self important and confused the faculty with the school’s purpose. Celebrity supplanted ethics. Career over community. And so it goes.
Despite the minority student cries of “more ethics, less aesthetics’ the summation of student work I see coming from that school m is design without purpose. The isolation of the computer monitor has replaced the dialog with community. There are a few bright spots here and there, easy to see amongst the all-the-same all alike student work. I hope it gets better.
A project like this, engaging community, for better or worse, out-here, discussed. Not pretty, but a conversation starting point for dialog. That is the value I see here, in front of city hall twenty-odd years ago.
ERIC MY FRIEND, I THOUGHT THOSE DAYS WOULD NEVER END. NOW MORE THAN EVER THE NEED IS GREAT. WHAT HAS NOT CHANGED IS THE YOUTH’S DESIRE TO MAKE THINGS BETTER. THE TIME IN LIFE WHERE THERE IS NOT MUCH TO LOSE BY BEING OUTSPOKEN AND SEEKING IDEALS.
THE ENGINES IN EDUCATION ARE THE PROFESSORS, GET THEM IN A POSITIVE GOOD MODE AND ALL SORTS OF THING HAPPEN. THE STUDENTS MORE THAN HAPPY TO BRING THE ENERGY AND TOOLS INTO SERIOUS PLAY.
OH WHAT OPPORTUNITY IN THESE DICY TIME TO DO SO. AND WHAT MORE SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS THAN THE HOMELESS. AS I SAID, I COULD LIVE IN ONE, AND I AM SURE STUDENTS COULD LIVE IN THEM, AND ALL SORTS OF THE SOCIETY AS WELL.
NOT PRETTY AS PROJECTED WITH A SHORT TIME STUDENT IMPUT, BUT I AM SERIOUSLY THINKING OF MAKING THEM PRETTY, GREEN, AND FUN. JUST GOING BACK AND TAKING A GLIMPSE, PROMTED BY KATE’S POEM AND RECENTLY STEPPING OVER SOME BODIES, MADE ME WAKE UP TO PRESENT TIME. WE ARE OUR BROTHERS KEEPER.
I like the housing–I know Santa Monica so well and was appalled at the change between the 80s and 2000s. My friend and I used to walk her baby on 3rd Street–it was shabby but human, we were teachers in East L.A., we felt at home in the world. Then it all changed and was a mecca for the heartless, headless rich, malling and eating, as the poem says, feet away from the hungry. Love the poem.
Eric knows the score. The new U.S. is not human. If Romney wins, it will probably be even less so, although Obama is no gift, either. I’m writing a novel about LA that tells it like it is, but who wants to hear it?
Glen, you have retained your humanity, which makes you part of a secret elite in this f-ing world, but how much effect any of us can have is a mystery.
THANKS FOR THE KIND WORDS AND CONCERN. WE AS THE ELITE CAN TALK AND HAVE COMPASSION, BUT THAT IS NOT GOING TO GET ANYWHERE. A COUNTY IS JUDGED BY HOW THEY TAKE CARE OF THEIR POOR.
IF 29% OF THE HOMELESS ARE MENTALLY ILL, THAT MEANS THAT 71% ARE ACCEPTABLE TO HELP IN A REASONABLE MANNER. WE GOT ARE PROBLEM RIGHT HERE. LIKE SAID, IN THE MUSIC MAN. NOT ONE TO JUST SAY TOO BAD ISN’T THAT A PITY, BUT ONE TO ACT UPON.
AND TO ACT YOU NEED A BASE OF CONCERN THAT PUTS TOGETHER POWER TO PUT THING IN MOTION.
I”LL VOLUNTEER, ANY TAKERS?
THE TRUTH ON LOS ANGELES, SAYS IT ALL, GIVE US A TASTE.
How some on the other side live.
THANKS FOR THE GLIMPSE OF INDIA’S SLUMS.
WHAT A CONTRAST TO THE AMERICAN SCEEN. I HAD A CLASS AT SAN FRANCISCO ACADEMY OF ART UNIVERSITY LAST YEAR WHERE THE STUDENTS WERE FROM RUSSIA, NIGERIA, INDONESIA, CHINA, KOREA, ETC.
WHEN WE DISCUSSED THE HOMELESS IN SAN FRANCISCO, THEY SEEMED HARDENED AND SAID IT WAS NOTHING COMPARED TO THEIR COUNTRIES.
THAT BEING THE CASE AND YOUR LINK TO INDIA SHOWS THIS IS A WORLD WIDE CONCERN. WHICH BRINGS US TO TRYING TO GIVE THESE HUMANS THE AMENITIES OF NURTURING HOUSING.
I CHECKED OUT ON LINE TODAY ABOUT THE HOMELESS IN THE USA GROWING AT A RAPID RATE, THE AVERAGE TIME HOMELESS IS ABOUT 2 1/2 MONTHS, 29% MENTALLY ILL.
I DO NOT SEE ANYWHERE SOLUTIONS THAT ENCOURAGE PLANNING THAT GIVES INTEGRITY AND RESPECT AS A FORM OF ARCHITECTURE. I AM JUMP STARTED TO DO DEAL WITH THIS SUBJECT.
IN NICARAGUA I DID NO SOME SCHEMES OF LOW INCOME ARTY HOUSE PROPOSALS. DID NOT GET BUILT. WHAT DID GET BUILT WAS BANAL.
WHAT IS SCARY WAS TO SEE THE SOLUTIONS IN INDIA OF THE PRISON LIKE HOUSING BLOCKS. WE KNOW HOW THAT FAILS HERE , A CAGE FOR TROUBLED SOULS.
WHEN IT GETS TO TRANSITIONAL HOUSING , LIKE WE PROPOSED, THE TIMING IS APPROPRIATE NOW .
Powerful….creative, hopeful…is the work of Glen Small and the students with ideals and talent. Hopeless is where is all seems to end for now….maybe a small (no pun intended) possibilty of happening.
Kate’s poem….strong sentiment and observation. Mine exactly.
I have walked the streets of Portland in the evening and the night, both to and from downtown to the Pearl and the 23rd Alphabet Districts. Fear was my constant companion; reason told me not to fear those who walked the night and slept in the doorways. I, walking as we are told to do…with an air of confidence and awareness amongst them.
Reason lied to me, as I found danger to be the other companion….
I was accosted by teenagers, seemingly homeless, who knocked off my hat and grabbed my shopping bag. A similar deranged man demanded that I push his wheelchair up a hill…I found two young men to do it…he was outraged at me for not pushing his wheelchair. The street is their toilet sometimes…and they get arrested for doing so….is there a shower and bath they can use in the jail?
Living in a house rather than the highrise …. my garbage can was their “fast food” .. my heart bled for that. I told them I would walk them to the shelter where they could get food …. they did not want to go. My basement steps teased one young homeless male … to want to sleep there. I asked him if he needed help … he said “no one can help me.”
The sign posts on the telephone poles had bulletins warning of 5 drug dealers close by (doesn’t that mean drug users too?).
Yes, by day, it was affluent and lovely and I was grateful to be in this life style….by night the misery was apparent and so palpable.
Twist of fate … war …. untold abuse …. made these “untouchables.” Another twist of fate made the Brahmin.
Kate’s poem says and feels and paints the picture that we either live …. or fear. And you take notice!!!!
It’s time to stop thinking of the ‘homeless’ as THE OTHER. We are all homeless sooner than we think. Savings gone, no job, no money for rent, food stamps, dumpster diving. We a re all one disaster away. The windfalls of inheritance or insurance settlements don’t last that long. Cars break down, no insurance, free clinics, thrift stores instead of malls. Always home cooking. I can’t remember the last time I went out for dinner. Or lunch. Instant coffee.
So we steal. We steal abandoned homes. Steal electricity off the pole. break the lock and connect the water. Turn of the gas. If the gas wont turn on we build a fire. A 55 gallon drum is a great oven/stove.
Once you get over the panic you adapt. Quicker the better. You become THE OTHER. The smug ones with a little more look down on you. You prefer to be with you own. Shared misery is a comfort. The comfort of strangers.
Time plays out different when you are down and out. If you have a place its month-to-month, have a job week-to-week. on the streets day-to-day. Jail-time is called vacation.
I don’t think a port-a-potty sized shelter solves anything. Too much like a micro version of a single family home. A smaller slice of cake. Mobile homes and vans work better.
In a jobless economy the answer has to be free housing. Free rent, free utilities, free food. Yes free. Yes because the everyday anxiety about money wrecks the body and kills the spirit. And yes, this is a problem that begs architects to solve.
YOU THE MOST BRILLIANT OF CRITICS WOULD MAKE A PERFECT CANDIDATE FOR THE BOX HOUSING SUGGESTED. AS I SAID, I COULD LIVE IN ONE. WHAT IS REALLY NEEDED? SAFETY, OUT OF THE ELEMENTS, WARMTH, LIGHT, SLEEPING, WORK SPACE, AND STORAGE IN ONES OWN PERSONAL SPACE. SHARED TOILET AND SHOWERS BOX MAINTAINED BY PUBIC SERVICES. THE BOTTOM LINE BEING FREE.
CERTAIN COUNTRIES LIKE HOLLAND, THERE IS SOCIAL STRUCTURE TO PROVIDE FOR THE HOMELESS. THE BLATANT ACCEPTANCE OF HOMELESS IN THE USA AS A GIVEN IS SHOCKING, FOOLISH, AND DANGEROUS. I ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT MUST BE OFF THE CHARTS .
The First 15-20 minutes is Felony breaking and entry. Smash a window, slide thru, change a lock or two. After that it is a civil matter. The first 30 days are crucial. The cops come, arguments, threats of arrest. You say ‘This is now a civil matter, take s me to court” Court never comes and you have a place to live for a year, and that’s how long it takes. The term is hostile takeover. The owner has to file. The banks wont spend the money or time to evict. And when the time comes and you are served you file a response and get another three months.
My circumstance is different. I, or i should say we, use this tactic to help persons in need. A sort of real estate Robin Hood. Steal from the rich, then give to the poor. The average time in California from foreclosure/bank takeover to bank auction sale is 275 days.longer if you resist or contest.
ROBIN HOOD WITH NO ARROWS, IT SOUNDS SO EASY. BUT THE FELONY THING IS REAL, AND IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE D. A. WILL HIT HARD.
YOU ARE INCONSEQUENTIAL, SMALL POTATOES, BUT A BIG THREAT IF YOUR BAND GETS THE WORD OUT,
BE CAREFUL MY FRIEND.
WISHING YOU THE BEST,
Radical solutions to difficult problems. The tragedy is that the establishment is not motivated to solve the problem, because its effect on voting (and donating) constituents is relatively low.
I noticed as an immigrant that the INS was equally uninterested in providing any kind of real service – making visa applicants queue overnight, when it’s quite trivial to set up a series of appointments (as other government departments do).
It feels like a ritual humiliation prior to receiving governmental benevolence. It is also a reminder that being on the outside makes one structurally the victim of a kind of passive-aggressive experience. The government (federal / state / local) is not motivated in ways that would make them care.
A SAD STATE OF AFFAIR WHEN THE VOTE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HUMAN WELFARE. YOU WOULD THINK BY NOW THERE WOULD BE A BASIC RIGHT OF HUMANS TO HAVE, FOOD, SHELTER, CLOTHING, MEDICAL, EDUCATION, JUSTICE AND WORK, SHARED VALUES WORLD WIDE.
TO PUT A ROOF OVER ONES HEAD IS A NO BRAINER, THAT WAS A GIVEN FOR NATIVES. HAVE WE ADVANCED?
WHAT THIS PROJECT DOES IS A TRANSITIONAL ROOF VS PARKS, STREETS, ALLEYS AND DOORWAYS.
Glen, I think all of us worked on some sort of design
for ‘the homeless’, either naively as in school or
adhoc as it seems to be. My solutions tended to be
less design and more conceptual.
Like this one: my first semester at SCI-Arc (sorry i
have pix or photos ..all gone, sad)
NO FIXED ADDRESS FIX
I didn’t know how to design a homeless shelter
building so i looked at it as something to provide
basic services. Food , clothing, shelter. It was just
a map of downtown LA with color coded dots, really
pins, that pointed out the services: public
bathrooms, places to sleep, places to eat cheap or
free. No need for a fixed structure, just a map.
What I did see as the potential problem was the
shopping carts and lugging of possessions, clothing
mostly, everywhere you went. So I proposed groups of
school/gym type lockers lined up in groups of a dozen
or more and these locker-groups aggregates scattered
across downtown where needed. Everyone had their own
lock to secure your stuff. And of course the lockers
were proudly painted in bright colors so you could
recognize your locker.
That was my first stab; a map and lockers. It was
shot down at the presentation because I was told that
many of the homeless were mentally ill and they would
lose. their locks, or they would get stolen, or what
if it rained! The shelter advocates/social workers
wanted a building.
My next attempt was right after school. I was
enamored with cargo containers after the Peak
competition and what you did at SCI-Arc. the site was
an empty lot. I also like what Eric Wright did with
his mobile trailers in Malibu, a sort of wagon train
circle with decks and a campfire in the middle.
So I imagined a formal solution combining the
elements of storage container , wood deck and
concrete fire-pit for cooking. The proposed layout
was an octagon with storage containers at the front,
rear and sides. Curved semi-circle corrugated
fiberglass panels roofed the containers.
A raised wood deck connected the four units with
lockers, etc lining the container walls. In the
middle was the fire-pit for cooking. People sleep on
the deck, or inside. The rear led to port-a-poty,
food garden and open clean-up, etc.
Jan and I knew an artist that would reassemble
billboards to make art and that idea became the
front; A recycled billboard hung off the street
facing container, a giant twenty-foot painting.
This never got built, the wood decking was the
expense that killed it. Later I found a treasure
trove of recycled 2x6s but it was too late. Project
never got off the ground.
COCRAN CRACK HOUSE
Many years later I got involved in designing a
shelter for Muslim women who were beaten up by their
husbands or boyfriends and needed a place to stay.
My friend Mo explained that existing house, a
donation, was abandoned. The footprint was small, a
run down two bedroom one bathroom. The house was used
for prayer and teaching and was the residence of the
caretaker. But it had a big backyard. That was the
key, to use the back as efficiently as possible.
As many as fifty people a night would come. I was
asked to help. There was no money. My friend Mo had
experience in building mosques and we had free labor.
Materials were scavenged or donated.
The basic issues of food clothing and shelter had to
be solved. Food was first. We doubled the stoves for
cooking and added an outdoor sink. Along the side
against a block wall a sixty-foot long raised
sleeping deck/porch was built. A crude trellis roof
allowed sheets and blinds to visually separate areas.
It was all open in the front. Privacy was minimal but
communal. The back was turned into a productive food
garden. There was an outdoor shower . It was to be a
showcase for donations. Muslim leaders from all over
Los Angeles came to see. For a brief while it worked.
Over time sofas, tables, all sorts of junk started
filling the encampment. Mo left to live at my place.
Although this was be a womenâ€™s shelter it soon
changed. With Mo gone no one cleaned or followed up
with the food donations. The persons left in charge
let dope dealers in and the shelter decayed into a
crack house. The police would raid the place and
eventually the property was designated by the city as
a nuisance. The donated property reverted back to the
now deceased family. Now the house is lived in by a
nice family and nothing remains of the social
experiment that I worked so hard on.
I realize that all solutions are temporary and
makeshift. The order that architects impose, design
or bring could change at any moment. New owners who
donâ€™t care or understand; natural disaster, death of
a client. The permanence we plan is illusionary. A
metaphor of order that we try to bring to our own
lives. At any moment everything can change. How can
architects deal with that? How can anyone?
Glen, Some of my friends have pointed out that writing on or designing for the homeless diminishes my ‘status’ ?!!?
maybe that is why architects don’t take this on. Poverty by association? No one will want to hire someone who ‘lowers his status’ . Seriously this is what I am told, that what i wrote about is beneath me. Is this what people really think? i dont get it.
great reporting. putting reality first. it all seems so hopeless and tragic. the people that do care are often driven by religion, vs just doing good for humans.
you are onto something, about the homeless are beneath architects.
as i and tim pointed out, there is no money to be made on the transitional
housing. but what is shocking is most everybody sees the need and does nothing,
the 29% that have mental problems is a no brainer, put them in public care. the other sane 71% we can organize and build homeless solutions.
Glen, What I did was low/no tech ad hoc. The more sophisticated solutions which take money are better, and they aggregate social services and maybe temp housing. Your ex-student Arnie Stalk developed a prototype for Las Vegas that combined housing, clinics, food back and services.
Some years later Los Angeles architect Jeffery Kalban reconfigured a three story industrial building for PATH (people assisting the homeless) . At my bookstore FORM ZERO we exhibited the project and held a public discussion on the project with the architect and non-profit founder. It aired for a half-minute on ABC World News.